History and status of the wheat rusts

Robert McIntosh

The University of Sydney, Plant Breeding Institute, Australia


The rusts have been ongoing problems for wheat production probably since domestication of the crop about 8,000 years ago. Epidemics vary in size and frequency with host genotype and environment, wet years being ‘rust’ years. Although partial control in modern agriculture was achieved with resistant varieties, conditions favoring epidemics were made worse with the intensification of production and greater resistance gene uniformity in the host. The current Ug99 incident illustrates the situation of very widely adapted successful genotypes grown across huge areas in the presence of an ongoing threat from a recently emerged widely virulent and obviously highly aggressive pathotype of the stem rust pathogen. This paper addresses some of the history of cereal rusts and reviews underlying principles of host pathogen genetics, some of which are being neglected in the period of modern genetics.